Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
I recently read an article on restorative culture that left me feeling tremendously unsettled. This was not because of the content included in the article – it was an accurately phrased and well thought-out piece.
Rather, here’s why my thoughts spiralled in an unanticipated fashion.
I was physically and emotionally abused by my ex-boyfriend for a year in 2015. I was sexually harassed by the same person in 2017. By February 2020, he had personally apologised to me, put up public statements taking accountability for his actions and started going to therapy willingly. He felt immense guilt for his actions and made sure I knew that.
If there was an award for the best reformed rapist, it would probably go to him. However, at the back of my mind, there is just one loud booming thought – “what now?” – alongside a cloud of extensive guilt for my feelings.
Watching your abuser lead a normal social life is frustrating.
Watching your abuser face social consequences is slightly comforting – to be perfectly blunt.
However, there is no manual or rule book that can hand you a natural response when your rapist is put on a pedestal in the form of a beacon of hope and reformation for all guilty men out there.
A very disturbing line of thought that kept cropping up is: did I not want him to get better?
The only answer I have is him progressing does not in any way affect whether my ordeal will end. That is a question mark which solely depends on my own efforts. While he was able to shed his distress and grow into what I can merely describe as a decent human being, I feel stuck and caught up in the trauma that his old self inflicted on me.
For many, the ideal goal of the #MeToo movement would be reformation and redemption. This is a fair line of thought. However, no matter how survivor centric restorative culture may be, the battle of a victim does not end at the reformation of his/her abuser. This is the unkind reality of the situation.
That being said, I’m nowhere implying restorative culture isn’t the need of the hour, I’m simply suggesting that it has a two-pronged impact: one on society generally and the other on survivors. What society gets is a reformed man willing to reform other men. Put simply, the product is someone who was able to realise his mistakes and move towards bettering himself and those around him.
It seems like a win-win situation that would benefit everyone, survivors included, but this prompted or unprompted self growth occurred at the cost of a very real victim who probably grapples with the consequences of his/her reality every day.
There is not much that can be done about this. Strictly mathematically speaking, it is weighing the cost-benefit ratio of one person vis-à-vis the general public. However, I think it’s important to validate the feelings of those who feel confused, restless and unnerved for not being able to express sheer joy at the personality development exhibited by someone who was previously abusive.
When progress is at your cost, the inability to feel grateful for it is not on you.
The complexity of the movement, along with the angle of ensuring political correctness in sensitive situations, can be overwhelming. The variability of each case makes it that much harder to follow a uniform checklist of how to do what. More so, the present environment of hostility is debilitating for abusers and victims alike.
However, a bottom line that must be emphasised – for the sake of victims – is that an abuser, no matter how reformed, was still the cause of much agony once. This cannot be mitigated or undone.
Such a clause shouldn’t invite cancelling out, nor should it imply that seeking forgiveness is a fruitless task. Rather, this is a call or attempt to shift the self-imposed sense of liability of forgiveness away from trauma survivors and address the effort and hard work that goes into the same.
Featured image credit: Rene Böhmer/Unsplash